Basi de Hen!
I used to think that I'd never know why Chengdu's winters felt so cold, so much colder than any winter I'd ever experienced in Ohio, or England, or even North Dakota, despite relatively warm temperatures—until one day it dawned on me that Chengdu's weather functions like a wet towel: warm it up and it's steaming, but once it starts cooling off, pretty quickly it starts feeling clammy. That's when, if it gets into your bones, it's hard to get it out again.
Now you could do what the locals do to stave off the cold and make sure you have a heaping helping of yangrou tang (mutton soup) on December 21, or wrap yourself in layers of bulky long underwear that make it hard to pee (or do anything else, for that matter), or you could just go for some nice hotpot, but by far, my favorite method of warmin' me old bones is to have a mug of mulled beer.
All right, all right, so all the Germans have thrown down the magazine in utter disgust at that last sentence, but I implore the rest of you to read further. If you like beer and you like mulled wine, you will probably like mulled beer. In Sichuan at least (because the only other place I've ever had it was at a historical reenactment in a castle in the UK) the beer is heated with lemon slices, goji berries, jujube, and laozao—fermented rice grains that impart a slightly sweet, slightly tangy flavor to the beverage. Mulled beer warms you up from the inside out, is a little bit sweet and lightly spiced with all the flavors of the ingredients, and, in case you're wondering, the alcohol does not all burn off.
Called various names—dun pijiu (炖啤酒, "stewed beer"), zhu pijiu (煮啤酒, "boiled beer"), or simply re pijiu (热啤酒, "hot beer"), it goes down quite nicely on a cold winter's eve and goes well with typical spicy Sichuan fare. You're most likely to find mulled beer on offer at shaokao and grilled-fish restaurants, the aforementioned yangroutang and unadorned hotpot restaurants, chuanchuanxiang restaurants, and pretty much any restaurant that looks like it's old-school Chengdu. It's typically sold in glass pitchers big enough to share with a friend or two or three starting around 20 kuai per pitcher.
Chengdu Style Mulled Beer Recipe
adapted from various popular recipes available online
2 bottles of beer
3 to 5 red dates (红枣)
5 to 10 goji berries (枸杞)
Citrus peel (fresh or dried) or orange slices with peel intact
Rock sugar (to taste)
1 to 3 slices of ginger (optional)
60g fermented rice grains (醪糟)
Pour beer into a large pot and bring just to simmer. Put the dry ingredients into a pot and boil for 10 minutes or until the dates are mushy. Combine the beer and rice vinegar with this mixture and serve.
This basi de hen article by DF was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 61 ("and the winner is...").
Previous article: The Fear of Gifts: What, when, to whom, and how to give in China
Next article: Sichuan hotpot with bull penis and innards: Mega Bites with Dandoval